When Bill Clinton was president, the liberal media establishment flogged itself for focusing on scandal over substance. In a four-hour PBS special during the fall election season of 1996, elitist Hedrick Smith confessed: "By focusing on scandal and conflict over substance, and by our increasingly negative tone, the media has distorted the nation's agenda and lost touch with the public we claim to serve."
No one can imagine Smith complaining like this now that Donald Trump lives in the White House. One's a Democrat, the other a Republican. One is a man they genuinely admire, the other a man they genuinely despise.
In the years of President Barack Obama, they pretended there were no scandals at all. Obama is still lying about this, having recently proclaimed at a closed-door session in Boston, "We didn't have a scandal that embarrassed us." The liberal "fact-checkers" like PolitiFact and Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post were napping on Obama, as usual.
Fast and Furious? IRS scandal? Benghazi? Nope, doesn't ring a bell.
But the Trump presidency is an ongoing and frenetic demonstration of the media choosing "scandal over substance." It is virtually all scandal all the time, even when there isn't a lick of evidence.
A new Media Research Center study of the evening newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC during January and February found that 91 percent of Trump evaluations were negative. Nearly 63 percent of news coverage was devoted to scandals like the Russia investigation (204 minutes), the allegations of wife beating against White House aide Rob Porter (54 minutes), unproven gossip from Michael Wolff's book about the Trump White House (53 minutes) and reports that Trump used the term "s—-hole countries" in a discussion on African countries and immigration (31 minutes).
Why is that 91 percent a memorable number? Because it's been that, or like that, every single month since the election.
The networks obviously believe their nightly narrative should not be diluted by focusing on any matter where Trump might be succeeding . Thus far in 2018, they have barely bothered to evaluate how Trump is doing on the economy and jobs (12 minutes), or the positive impact of the tax cuts passed in December (nine minutes). Guess how much time was spent on Team Trump's war against al-Qaida and ISIS: 83 seconds .
Since Trump took office on Jan. 20, 2017, the three evening newscasts have spent a combined 1,438 minutes on the Russia investigation, accounting for more than one out of every five minutes (21 percent) of "news" time on the Trump presidency.
And still, there is no evidence of Trump colluding with the government of Russia to get him elected. There is proof that agents paid by Hillary Clinton's campaign met with the Russians to get dirt on Trump. But the Clintons created multiple layers of separation (or deniability), so, apparently, that wasn't scandalous in the slightest.
Every study of the media's performance reveals the "news" product is hyperbolic, negative and seemingly designed to make the Trump presidency appear perpetually on the verge of collapse. How can any of these journalists be surprised that Trump backers don't trust their narration of the first draft of history as it unfolds?
L. Brent Bozell III is the president of the Media Research Center. Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog NewsBusters.org.